After years of roadblocks, a path has opened for the creation of a new Midtown East, with soaring skyscrapers, improved public transit and lots of economic potential.
Under proposed new zoning, developers and building owners could build bigger in exchange for improving subway stations, streets and sidewalks in the burgeoning district, which reaches from 39th Street to 57th Street, and from Third Avenue to Madison Avenue. The plan would allow owners and developers to buy air rights from landmarked structures throughout the zone. Previously, developers could only buy such rights from landmarks adjacent to their properties. Funds from the purchases would go to maintain the landmarks, while a portion would go to city coffers for new pedestrian plazas, wider medians and shared streets for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
The zone would breathe new life and commerce into this aging business area, adding more than 6 million square feet of office space and thousands of jobs. Beyond the taller and more modern buildings, the public upgrades and expansions, especially to the subway stations, are the heart of this plan. There would be new entrances, increased accessibility, wider stairways, and new paths to the platforms at stations along the Lexington Avenue and Sixth Avenue lines, along with a renovated mezzanine level at Grand Central Terminal. Developers would do the work, and the MTA would provide access and oversight.
The rezoning could show what’s possible when city officials try public-private partnership strategies. This approach should be tried in other hot areas where builders want more density or height. City officials also can learn from the success seen in a test case in Midtown East. They started with the One Vanderbilt skyscraper next to Grand Central Terminal, where developer SL Green Realty Corp. got more height in exchange for making transit upgrades, such as building a concourse between Grand Central’s subway entrance and the Long Island Rail Road’s future East Side Access home. Now, the full rezoning is expected to pass when the City Council votes on Aug. 9.
There are large rezoning and development efforts citywide, like Sunnyside Yards in Queens. Imagine the grand public spaces that could be built. Midtown East will be just the beginning.